In 1976, my family got that dreaded middle-of-the-night visit by a law enforcement officer. My 23-year-old sister Peggy had been murdered, the victim of robbery and sexual violence by an unstable, troubled man who happened to own a gun. Unlike the Capital Gazette killings, there was no prior connection between the victim and her killer. Nevertheless, the outcome was the same: My sister had been shot to death by someone who should not have had access to a gun.
I know all too well what transpires after such news: despair, followed by sadness, followed by a fractured family that leaves every person scarred forever in some way or another.
Now, 42 years later, parents, friends and spouses across our country continue to face the same tragic news that my family faced those many decades ago. And like most clear-thinking people, I cannot understand how or why we have not yet found a way to prevent more of those middle-of-the-night visits with dreaded news.
You might think that I would try to avoid reading news accounts of the victims and their families, but I find I cannot help myself. I read every story, every article about those whose lives were lost. I want to know what they did, how many siblings they had, how they spent their spare time and how much they were loved. I want to think that they, like my sister, were in the midst of living full and interesting lives, and that they made a lasting impact on those around them in some way. On some level, I find that comforting. It’s possible I need to believe that, though lives were cut short, each person touched others in some positive way. And I read these stories because, after all these years, I still identify with the survivors of victims of violence.
But I think mostly I read stories about and profiles of the victims because I want to remember them and not just move on to the next day’s news. I did not know Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith or Gerald Fischman of the Capital Gazette, but I have great respect for their accomplished careers and for enriching the lives of those around them. I hope that others who read their stories remember them not just now, but for years to come, just as I hope that, while 42 years have gone by, those who knew my sister or were touched in some way by her life — and her death — remember her.
At the rate we are going, more headlines will be written, more friends and families will lose loved ones, and more tears will be shed. While that may be today’s new normal, we cannot let it be tomorrow’s.
It is clear, given the current powers in Washington and in too many state houses across the country that finding a solution is not fundamentally a political or policy priority. Our political class is too polarized to pass meaningful gun regulation, such as stricter background checks, to limit easy access to firearms for people with histories of mental illness or violence or criminality. Shootings occur, and we repeat the same endless loop of alarm, sadness, fear and anger.
Perhaps, instead of going through that ritual, we need to step back and feel a genuine empathy for the victims, families and their intimate circles. The realization that the scars left by senseless acts of violence are permanent might just change the dialogue and allow us to collectively find solutions.
Amy Elias is founder and CEO of Profiles, Inc. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.